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Old Fashioned

Chicago the Movie

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Chicago arrived in the sticks last weekend, and so I was at last able to check it out. Um, all I can say is, if this represents a revival of the musical genre, it might be better to allow it to die an honorable death. I see by the papers that some reviewers have hailed it as the best musical in thirty years, i.e., since Cabaret – not a large statement, even if true, as there haven't been too many in the interim. It would be distressing if people were to take this to mean as good as, or even in the same ballpark as, Cabaret. I've always thought Kander and Ebb's score was several cuts below what they produced for the earlier show, and the movie did not change my opinion. The dialogue was feeble and is still feeble – crudely cynical with no sharpness, wit, or edge.

Fortunately, it's just as well that the numbers aren't top-drawer, because if they were, Rob Marshall's staging hardly allows you to focus on them. He takes a device Fosse used effectively and sparingly in "Cabaret" -- intercutting between the songs and action/dialogue scenes – and works it to death, so that neither the numbers or the action build up any kind of rhythm. Maybe audiences of today can't take a song if it's not cut into several thirty second sound bites, I don't know. The malign influence of Moulin Rouge is clearly evident here. (I got the feeling, after about forty-five minutes, that I was watching a series of commercials or trailers for a movie. The movie itself didn't make an appearance.) Every number is staged to stop the show, even if the bit in question would probably not stop a high school play. It's a very basic point, but in order for your Big Moments to stand out, you have to have a quiet one or two. (Even John C. Reilly winds up planting his legs far apart and booming at the ceiling, like Judy belting "Swanee" at the Palladium.) There's not a whole lot of choreography to speak of – lots of high kicks, splits, and in the murderesses' number, what looked to be some dry humping. If you're into women's thighs, this is a good movie for you – usually you have to rent porn or tune into cable after hours for this kind of display.

Of the three stars, Zellweger comes off the worst. I've always liked Zellweger and her unstarry looks (What did they say in the front office, I wonder – "She lisps! She squints!" We're gonna make her a star!"), but the character as conceived in this version of the story has no charm or humor, the photography is not kind to Zellweger's face or figure, and her big number looks like amateur night. Zeta-Jones does better – she gives you the impression that she could carry a number like the opener if she were allowed to, which she isn't. Both actresses perform in a naturalistic manner unsuited to the high-theatrical, near-abstract style of the show. Gere does better in this respect, but…..boy, does his dancing suck. (The frantic intercutting reaches a nadir with his tap dance – you shift back and forth between a bad courtroom scene and a bad dance. Not a pretty sight.)

I don't know if Rob Marshall thinks this is a really cool way to shoot a movie, or if this was his response to the problem of filming a dance-driven musical with stars who cannot really sing or dance. It may also be Firsttimedirectoritis, an affliction that often results in hyperactive camerawork. (Fosse himself experienced an attack of this for his first film, "Sweet Charity," but there the choreography and the songs still came through.) Maybe it's a bit of all three.

I'm sorry if the foregoing is harsh, and I hope no one who really liked the movie will hesitate to speak up. I should note that the movie isn't awful, although I might have made it sound so, and it's over refreshingly fast.

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dirac, you are the first person that I know that hasn't liked it.

it's unfortunate that the movie can't just stand on it's own. it's like people who complain The Two Towers is slightly different from the Tolkien book.

For the $10 price, I'd go see this movie 7 times before I went back to the theater to see it.

Perhaps it's a generational thing. I liked it, that whole fast, blitzy feeling is like going to a club and trying to see.

For 2 hours I was entertained, I was impressed these actors whom I had no hope for, in my opinion pulled it off.

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Calliope, I'm happy to stand alone on this issue. And debate is always welcome.

The fast camera movement is fine for a segment or two, but I don't think it works for almost two hours without any contrast.

Also, with all due respect to the sensibilities of the younger generation, I was able to hobble into the theatre without the aid of a walker. :) I also have enough respect for young people to believe that they can sit through a single well staged song without three or four cuts to Other Business.

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I didn't mean to direct the age differential at you dirac :)

I just meant, they don't know any better.

Fosse, who's that?

Chicago, that's a candy bar, right?

A generation that thinks Barnes & Noble is the new library.

And I'm not saying it mean spirited, I'm a Generation X-er, so I've seen black and white movies,

but if you look at Baz's Romeo & Juliet, big hit with the younger set, same cutting, craziness, I blame it on Soderbergh, actually, but....

if you've not seen anything good (in the movie theater) you have nothing to compare it to.

We're talking a generation who's "My Fair Lady" is "Grease"!

Special effects and camera "trips" (a la the Matrix) have spoiled the stable camera angle.

As my neighbor said of Chicago, "it was like being on E (cstasy) without having to take it"

whoa

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Originally posted by Calliope

I just meant, they don't know any better.  

Fosse, who's that?

Chicago, that's a candy bar, right?

Hmph. I think I'm fairly familiar with Fosse's work, and I still enjoyed the film. I didn't try to compare it to how movie musicals "used to be" or theatrical stagings.

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Old Fashioned, you know dance, so Fosse...

and if you've seen the old musicals, well then you have something to compare it to if you wanted.

you basically have some background

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But back, for a moment, to the issue of the stable camera angle. These days, I see more and more of camera choreography and less straightforward shooting. Peter Jackson in his Lord of the Rings output so far has proved so enamored of the spiral shot that one watches "The Two Towers" at the peril of motion sickness! Not that it takes away from the many, many good things that he's done in the work, but after awhile, things like this which are intended to thrill become simply tedious, and call attention to themselves rather than further the film.

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I saw Chicago this weekend and liked it, although it is not as riveting as the stage version. I liked Zeta-Jones more than I expected and Zellweger slightly less. My two issues with the movie - they cleaned it up too much and made it seem brighter and more glamorous than I recall the play being. The darker seamier side seemed to have been painted over. (The costumes are to die for (no pun intended) - especially Zeta-Jones' fur sleeved dress.) But the thing I found most frustrating is the dancing - please let me see more than one move before you cut to something else - I thought "All that Jazz" was really good - what I could see of it.

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There's nothing wrong with making comparisons. "Chicago" is part of a recognized film genre, and it's perfectly all right to look at it in relation to other examples of same. The story has been used for a well regarded film comedy and a well known stage production – again, comparisons should be expected and may even be useful. (You don't need to have seen these earlier versions to be able to evaluate the film, of course.)

Calliope, no apologies necessary! However, I don't think the "different generations" angle is very useful here. I know several people of a Certain Age who enjoyed the movie very much, and I saw all ages, except for the very young and very old, represented in the audience. So mine is clearly a minority opinion. :(

I know what you mean, Mel. And the problems are exacerbated by where movies are shown these days, at least in the suburbs. Our new local theatre went from a small human sized eight-screen multiplex to a Supercolossal one, with a vast parking lot – you need a compass to get to the building – and inside it's a rabbit warren of small theatres each dominated by a huge screen too big for the room. We made the mistake of sitting too close – that is, in the center, which is too close for this kind of location – and when Zeta-Jones slid toward the camera I thought she was going to bite my head off.

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Just wanted to revive this thread because saw Chicago tonight and was so disappointed...All the edge was gone! And the tension! In place of the Fosse, "In your face" style, there is cheesecake begging to be loved! I may need to go see the show again, as a kind of antidote.

Desmond Richardson was listed as one of the dancers...?

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Desmond's in a lot of the photos with Zeta Jones, from All That Jazz. When ZJ pulls a female dancer in front of her and a male behind her, that's him.

He's actually pretty visible, perhaps the camera didn't have to zoom him so much b/c he can dance

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Just saw Chicago, a late birthday present from my 21 year old son who went with me. I loved it. Agree about the cuts in the dancing; I had been warned about them, and tho they are soooo annoying they weren't quite a bad as expected. Read that Zeta-Jones carried the movie; I found her the weak link. Loved Zellweger. But most of all I loved Gere! Yes I did! Granted he's no dancer, but as a manipulative crooked lawyer he was just plain old fun to watch. A wonderful highlight was "Mr. Cellophane Man" (that's the title or that song, right); it just about did me in. Incidentally I saw the musical on stage twice.

Giannina

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Renee Graham of the Boston Globe expresses doubts about the revival of the movie musical as exemplified by "Chicago" – that is, eventually they'll need genuine singers and dancers, won't they? (She was a big fan of Zeta-Jones, too):

http://www.boston.com/dailyglobe2/084/livi...musicals+.shtml

Giannina, I think you're right about Gere. He had the style, he had the manner, he had a better understanding of the concept than either of the girls. Now, if he could only tap dance. :)

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Ed, forgive the presumption, but I'm copying your excellent post in its entirety and adding it to this thread, closing your new one for continuity's sake:

Ed's post:

Bob Fosse in the era of MTV—“Chicago”

Something I wrote a few months ago.

There are plenty of good dancers in “Chicago” especially those featured in the six murderesses number.

Ekaterina Shelkanova was a soloist with the ABT. Denise Faye began dancing on Broadway ten years ago. Mya Harrison (who should be forgiven for her part in the dreadful “Lady Marmalade in “Moulin Rouge”) studied tap with Savion Glover.

The movie depicts a universe that partially parallels our own, in which men abuse, beat up, cheat on and generally annoy women. In the world of “Chicago”, though, the women they prey upon are quick to deal with these men. They are shot, (the most typical form of dispatch) garroted, stabbed, poisoned, and pushed from windows. And as Mama Morton (Queen Latifah) says, “I never knew a man who got killed who didn’t deserve it.”

None of the three stars, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renee Zellweger and Richard Gere, are good singers or dancers. They are, however, movie stars and occupy the screen as such. The choreography and editing take care of the dancing, while digital doubling and tripling of the voice tracks allows them to sing.

Men are best cast—Gere may be the most self-satisfied mature actor in Hollywood and is perfect as the impossibly smug lawyer Billy Flynn. John C. Riley is almost too good as the long-suffering and gullible Amos Hart. Taye Diggs carries off the thankless role bandleader and Greek chorus and Colm Feore, a stalwart at Ontario’s Stratford Shakespeare Festival, is properly reptilian as the Assistant District Attorney.

On the distaff side, Queen Latifah obviously needs little vocal digital enhancement. She also seems to enjoy her role, playing it for all the campy gusto it has.

Zeta-Jones, with her Louise Brooks bob, is the epitome of a femme fatale. The director, Rob Marshall, who is also credited first among the four choreographers, wisely did not let the camera linger on her for too long when she was in the same frame as professional dancers. As an audience we have become used to frenetic editing and jump cuts, so it is less obvious than it would have been in years past. She does move well and has a terrific body—like a stripper from the 1950s or a leading actress from the 1940s. Lily St. Cyr, or Rita Hayworth, for example.

She has a throaty, smoky dramatic mezzo—almost a contralto—without much upper extension, but not much is needed in the keys in which she sings. She has the best singing voice of the three leading players, has a good sense of rhythm and knows what syllables in what words to emphasize.

Zellweger’s voice is another matter entirely. Her singing sounds as if it would be unpleasant without digital enhancement and sweetening. It is very “white”—no vibrato almost like an English choirboy’s voice but lacking the beauty. A squawky tone with no breath support. Given that all her songs can be delivered with the Broadway “belt” voice, it isn’t too bad.

Gere doesn’t really sing, but he places his voice well and knows how to sell a song.

The structure of constantly cutting between musical numbers and the depressing, tawdry and mean “real” life that they reflect is shockingly effective at first, with Zeta-Jones on stage, having just shot her husband and Zellweger shooting the cad who has seduced and abandoned her. Or attempted to abandon her—he is shot dead before he gets out the door.

But since every number (except the six murderesses) is cut this way, it becomes a bit of a bore by the end.

There was only one great number—“They both reached for the gun”, in which Gere becomes a ventriloquist with Zellweger sitting on his knee as his dummy and the press corps become puppets whose strings he pulls.

A note about the death and revival of movie musicals—there have been several movies recently that could be called musicals, in the sense that there are musical performances throughout the film, generally integrated into the action but sometimes just dropped in. Among them are “8 Mile”, “Drumline” and O Brother Where Art Thou”. “8 Mile” was a huge hit here in Motown and did well elsewhere. “Drumline” was marketed to an African-American audience, “O Brother” was pitched as a semi-art house movie, like most those done by the Coen brothers.

__________________

"While Stavinsky is much more tied to the Gods,

Prokofiev is friendly with the Devils."

--Sergei Diaghilev, interviewed in The Observer (London)

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This is a question viewers of Fosse's original staging would be best equipped to answer, but can the new "Chicago" really be described as Fosse in the age of MTV, or is the conception crucially different from his in any respect? From descriptions I've read I can see apparent major differences,but it would be interesting to hear about this in detail from an eyewitness.

The ventriloquist number was effective, I agree, and I thought Zellweger was at her best there.

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Chicago the show is, pardon the cliche, loaded with attitude. To me the movie was a lobotomized version.

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balletmama, I love your post! :D Now, maybe I finally will go see the musical... I did like the "real" dancers' parts... However, really I am glad that Renee did not win the best actress award.

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I'd rather see the movie 7 times than pay $50 to see the Broadway show.

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Calliope, call Telecharge at 212-947-8844 and use this code -- CHPBEM8 -- which is the Playbill.com online club, and you can see the show for $35.

Thank you, BW!

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sorry, what I meant was I'd rather pay to see the movie, I liked it better than the play :D

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Adored it the 2nd time around (today).

Zellweger was robbed.

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I think Zellweger not singing at the Oscars confirmed that she had a lot of help in the studio.

If anyone got robbed, it was Julianne Moore. And Gere for not getting nominated.

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I loved Julianne Moore, especially in "Far From Heaven", but she and Nicole Kidman (whom I think is one of the great beauties of the screen and one of the best behaved actresses in public) had costumes to work with. Meryl was the real, naked actress in "The Hours".

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I agree with you wholeheartedly, glebb, and refer you to our Oscars thread, but again I must remind everyone to Stay on Topic Course. Thanks to all!

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